This season was supposed to be different for Everton, with the financial backing of Farhad Moshiri and the savvy recruitment of director of football Marcel Brands set to see them challenge for a place in the top six. But a poor start to the campaign saw the board replace coach Marco Silva with the experienced Italian Carlo Ancelotti.
Everton are not only underperforming in terms of fans’ expectations, but they are also underperforming in terms of their underlying numbers. With this in mind, then, was it correct to remove Silva and will any improvement in their form be the result of Ancelotti’s coaching, or would an upturn have been expected to happen anyway? Before even thinking about those questions we need to understand what we mean by underlying numbers and see where those figures would expect Everton to be in the table.
Expected goals (xG) is one of the most useful measures of a team’s performance. The use of xG is gradually becoming more widespread, with the likes of Match of the Day regularly including this metric in their graphics, even though they do not fully explain what it is. In online football analysis, xG is almost uniformly used.
In order to work out a team’s xG score for a match, each shot taken by that team will be run through a model that uses historical data in order to calculate the likelihood of the shot resulting in a goal. A penalty, for example, carries an xG of around 0.75 because out of every 1000 shots of this nature we would expect to see 750 goals. At the time of writing, Everton have scored 28 goals which is the 12th most in the league. In terms of xG, however, they are expected to have scored 34.01 goals, which is the seventh most in the league.
So, from the data, we can see that Everton should have scored 6.01 goals more than they have so far. They are therefore underperforming their xG by just over 6 goals. But just knowing that isn’t enough; we also have to understand why. To a point, we can assume that their strikers have not been converting chances. The likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison have picked up form recently, but over the whole season they have been less than clinical. The same can be said for the supporting cast, with Moise Kean in particular struggling to find the back of the net. That is still only part of the picture, though, as we also have to take into account the performance of the opposition. A strong defence or an in-form goalkeeper can see a shot with a relatively high xG still result in no goal.
We can also measure performance at the other end by assessing expected goals against (xGA). So far this season Everton have conceded 35 goals which again is the 12th most in the league. Their xGA, however, is 31.78 – the eighth best in the division. Once again we can see that Everton are underperforming their conceded goals, this time by 3.22. This may seem like a small amount, but those 3.22 goals could be the difference between three points and one point, or between one point and none. These small margins are incredibly important over the course of a season, and show why it is so important to meeting these expected targets.
The underperformance from Everton in terms of xGA is likely down to lapses in concentration in defence and the underperformance of their goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, with the England international having come in for significant criticism from Everton fans this season. Any or all of these factors are enough for a team to underperform their xGA.
The final metric that we can use to examine the case of Everton is expected points, xP, as a measure of performance. This is calculated by taking each team’s xG score from any given match and assessing how many points this would have been worth based on that figure alone. A team with consistently high xG, for example, would be expected to gain more points over the course of the season than a team with a consistently low xG. This translates very simply as teams need to take more shots from smart positions to be successful. Simple, right? Well in terms of points Everton currently have 30 which, again, is the 12th best in the division. Their xP is 34.6, which is good for eighth best in the division. So what are 4.6 points worth? In this instance, they are the difference between mid-table and challenging for a European place.
We can therefore conclude that Everton’s performances this season have been good enough for them to be four places higher than 12th. Those four places suggest a level of performance that may be slightly undervalued by most betting markets, which is something you can take advantage of if you understand these expected metrics.
This coming weekend sees Everton travel to Watford, with the home side having undergone something of a resurgence in recent weeks. The underlying numbers suggest the Toffees have performed better than their results so far this term. If they deliver another good display at Vicarage Road, they could collect all three points. Odds of 33/20 (Marathon Bet) on an Everton win suggest market inefficiency based on the Toffees’ results, rather than their performances. Do not pass up the opportunity to back Ancelotti’s side to beat Watford at a favourable price.